Zimbabwean authorities should drop all charges against freelance journalist Anyway Yotamu, investigate his assault by police, and hold those responsible to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.
At about 11 a.m. on Thursday, July 7, police officers assaulted Yotamu while he was filming an altercation between taxi drivers and parking attendants in the central business district of the capital, Harare, according to the journalist and his lawyer Shamiso Dhlakama, both of whom spoke to CPJ via messaging app, multiple local media reports, a Facebook post by the Zimbabwe chapter of the regional press freedom group Media Institute of Southern Africa, and a statement by the local Young Journalists Association, which CPJ reviewed.
A group of five officers ordered Yotamu to stop filming, hand over his phone, and give them his password; when he refused, the officers tried to grab his phone, knocking it to the ground and damaging it, and then beat Yotamu with truncheons all over his body, according to those sources. Yotamu told CPJ that he identified himself as a journalist multiple times during the incident, and the attack only stopped when a fellow officer told them not to beat journalists.
The officers brought Yotamu to the Harare Central Police Station and indicated he would be released without charge after his lawyer intervened, Yotamu and Dhlakama told CPJ. However, authorities reversed course soon after and charged the journalist with disorderly conduct and undermining the authority of the police, they said.
“Again, police in Zimbabwe are assaulting and arresting journalists for simply doing their jobs. Freelance journalist Anyway Yotamu is their latest victim, and prosecutors must drop the spurious charges against him,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, in Durban, South Africa. “It is high time that Zimbabwean authorities ensure that police officers end their attacks on journalists. Maintaining law and order is not a license to abuse power.”
Yotamu sustained injuries to his knee from the beating, for which he received medical treatment, the journalist and Dhlakama told CPJ.
If convicted of disorderly conduct, he could face a fine of 30,000 Zimbabwean dollars (US$83) and six months imprisonment; undermining the authority of the police carries up to two years imprisonment and a fine of 120,000 Zimbabwean dollars (US$332), according to the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Actand schedule of fines.
Yotamu is scheduled to appear in court on Saturday, he and his lawyer told CPJ.
Zimbabwe police spokesperson Paul Nyathi told CPJ by phone that he was unaware of Yotamu’s arrest and subsequent charges.